04 August 2011

Characters I Love

When I saw Star Wars at the age of nine in the theater (or maybe it was The Empire Strikes Back), I had a HUGE crush on Luke Skywalker. Dashing, attractive, daring, he was everything I wanted my hero to be.

Remember the scene in the first part of Star Wars, where they show the two ships fighting the lasers go whizzing past with lots of loud noise?

I hid in my dad’s shirt when that happened.

I also hid when Darth Vader and Luke fought the first time, and when Luke lost his hand. How I hated Darth Vader! That breathing!

I remember a few years back that modern audiences don’t find Darth Vader scary at all, but that the new set of Star Wars movies had Darth Maul as the new big-bad.

Say what?? How could you not find that breathing scary?

Then I saw Space Balls (somehow I missed it when it first came out). Not at all scary, and I tried to tell myself I agreed – Darth Vader isn’t scary.

But I still shiver when I think of him, and that awful breathing.

I didn’t have imaginary friends growing up. Instead, I told myself stories, and others too. I wrote the first one when I was nine; an embarrassing-to-me-now piece about a cat named Marge.

Hey, we all gotta start somewhere, right?

Then I discovered Star Trek on re-runs. I used to watch it on my parents’ old black-and-white TV in their bedroom while my mom was in some other part of the house, sewing or cleaning or what-all. The shows captivated me. I wanted Captain Kirk to be my dad. Or at least an uncle.

Then came the alien probe episode.

I’m sure, if I watched it now, I would find it quite unscary. After all, we’ve progressed light-years from the olden days of special effects. But that probe episode sticks with me, for the sheer dread I felt while watching it. There were a couple others that I found equally riveting, and that had characters that scared me. But the idea of a machine attacking people, to me at the time, inexorable.

Somehow, the Terminator must have gotten my brain scans, because they couldn’t have conceived of a scarier redux on that idea! I mean, it’s a machine, shaped like a man! It could be anyone! Schwarzenegger’s gotten a lot of bad press lately, much of it self-inflicted, but he will forever have my admiration for the portrayal of that heartless, soulless machine in the first movie. Not to mention, he was unstoppable! I know everyone remembers the “Ah’ll be bahk” quotes. But to me, the seminal moment is when the terminator is crushed in the machine and STILL keeps coming, even without his legs working.


I remember reading a quote attributed to Lois McMaster Bujold relative to her character, Miles Vorkosigan. She said something along the lines that she simply imagines what horrible tortures she can do to Miles, and then figures out a way for him to surmount them, and that’s how she comes up with her stories. In the process, she’s created one of the most amazing characters of science fiction. Here is a man who is crippled, maimed, and some might say, deformed. Yet he manages through sheer force of personality to abscond with a mercenary army and then return to take command of that army – despite not being of legal age to drink.

For me, what makes characters, good or bad, memorable is how they handle the consequences of their actions or the actions around them. It isn’t enough to just do “stuff” to a person. What’s interesting is how that person responds to it. I remember my father ranting about the movie The Perfect Storm, because the men upon whom the story is based were drunk and stupid. He felt that was no way to tell a story, since the people involved had no redeeming characteristics. I didn’t quite know what he meant until I saw the remake of The War of the Worlds. Tom Cruise’s character was awful! The portrayal wasn’t bad, as Mr. Cruise is a skilled professional. But the man he portrayed was, to put it bluntly, a waste of time. He didn’t stay with his wife, was a neglectful father, and a coward. Yet the entire movie revolved around him as though he was some sort of reflection of everyman, a modern-day hero.

To that I say, poo. I want heroes like Luke Skywalker. Men and women who take what is given to them and turn it into something grand. Villains who intimidate by a look or a gesture.

Characters, in short, who make me believe, even for only a short while, that they are real, that they live and breathe, and that I could one day meet them.

~A. Catherine Noon
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